“Oh, come on,” Xander protested. “There’s got to be something.”


“No, I’m sorry, that’s all I’ve found so far,” Giles said, shaking his head. “The single reference to the Tooth of Ryla mentions it as a prize seized in battle by Andreas the Black in 862 A.D. And that was in what would now be Austria. I can’t find any description of it, nor any mention of it before or since, nor any reference to this Crimson Tiger – “


“That’s not it,” Spike growled. “It’s the Tiger in Red.”


“Pardon me, Tiger in Red,” Giles said patiently. “Really, Spike, if you could give me a little more information about the source of these enigmatic statements, or a bit more context to the remarks, perhaps I might be able to deduce some cross-references . . . “


Spike considered, then shrugged.


“Old friend named Leng Chi,” he said. “He’s a – “


“Risza demon?” Giles said, his jaw dropping. “Leng Chi, did you say? My God, do you know there’s mention of him in the first Watcher chronicles, the very first ones? Dear God, what can he be doing here in Sunnydale? Is it the Hellmouth? He’s written to be a powerful sorcerer. Are you certain he’s not the one who – ”


“Look – “ Spike cleared his throat awkwardly, wondering what can of worms he’d opened now. “Leng Chi isn’t your problem. He’s old and tired and no threat to anybody.” That was an out-and-out lie; Spike had no doubt that even on his deathbed, Leng Chi would be more than a match for any or all of the Scooby Gang, on the magical front at least, if not physically. “And whatever he says, you can count on it being worth listening to.” That much at least was true. Leng Chi loved his games and riddles, or maybe his visions simply were that vague, as Dru’s had often been, but they were always worth taking seriously.


Giles gazed at Spike skeptically.


“And you don’t think this Risza demon might wish to . . . er . . . disinform us? For his own purposes?”


Spike smirked.


“You, yeah,” he said. “Me, no. He owes me big. So where do we check next, the Watchers’ Council?”


Giles shook his head, sighing.


“Remember, I no longer have any standing with them,” he said ruefully. “That’s cost me a good deal of my information resources.”


Spike sighed.


“That’s what I was afraid of,” he said ruefully. “Well, only one thing for it, then.”


“What, consult another demon?” Xander said, looking unhappy.


“Worse,” Spike said, shuddering.


“What could be worse?” Xander asked worriedly. Then his eyebrows jumped. “Oh, no – you don’t mean – you can’t mean – “


Spike nodded dismally.


“’Fraid so, Pet,” he said.


“What?” Giles said blankly. “Or should I say who?”


“Angel,” Spike and Xander said together.


Giles’ eyebrows shot up.


“And why, pray, is asking Angel’s help so terrible?”


Spike rolled his eyes.


“Oh, there’s just the little matter that last time he saw me, I was sticking hot pokers through him, trying to get him to give me the Gem of Amara,” Spike said sarcastically. “But I’m sure he won’t hold a little thing like that against me.”


“Oh, dear,” Giles said unhappily. “I remember now. Perhaps it would be best if I contacted Angel?”


“Nah.” Spike shrugged fatalistically. “I’d have had to work our little spat with him out again sooner or later. Guess I might as well get it over with.”


“Get what over with?” Buffy’s voice came from the doorway. “Me staking you?”


“No, luv, studying up so I can beat your English Lit scores,” Spike said smoothly. “Hard cheese, but I’ll manage, seeing as I’ve at least read some books without pictures.”


Buffy flushed and Spike smirked to himself – vampiric hearing could be fun, especially when listening to the Slayer moan to Willow about her grades.


“Hey, maybe I should delve more deeply into English poetry,” Buffy sneered. “Why don’t you show us some of yours? I’m sure we could all use a good laugh.”


Spike kept his expression composed – with difficulty. Damn, he wished he’d never told Buffy that bit about Cecily and his horrible poems. It was one of the few memories of his mortal life that still had the power to hurt him. Desperately he flailed for a witty comeback.


“Yeah, I’m sure that would be pretty entertaining,” Xander said, to Spike’s astonishment. “But you’ve got Spike beat on the amusement front, hands down, with that poem you wrote to Angel. Let’s see, how did it start? ‘Fallen Angel, where do I begin? I long to feel your lips upon my skin – ‘”


Buffy went pale.


“How did you know about that?” she whispered, her fists clenched.


“Oh, c’mon, Buffy,” Xander said, rolling his eyes. “Who was the smitten schmuck who always picked up your notebooks and papers when you threw them down to battle the demon du jour? Good ol’ donut boy Xander Harris. I Xeroxed that one, too – it was sooooooo cute, with all those little hearts in the margins. I bet Angel would just love to see it. And what a coincidence, just so happens we’re going to have a little chat with Deadboy himself.”


“Xander, why are you acting like – “ Buffy began, angry and bewildered, then stiffened. “Angel? He’s coming here?”


“We don’t know that yet,” Giles interjected quickly. “We merely need to consult with him on some information that Spike uncovered. Perhaps a phone call would – “


“Bugger that,” Spike growled. “I’m going there.”


“We are?” Xander said, surprised, then hurriedly modified, “I mean, you are?”


“What’s this ‘we’ stuff?” Buffy said, raising her eyebrows.


“Well, how’s he going to get to LA?” Xander returned, flushing. “Would you let him borrow your car and take off with it? I think not.”


“He can take the bus,” Buffy suggested helpfully. “How about the nine a.m. bus? All those nice windows.”


“To what do we owe the pleasure of your company anyway, Pet?” Spike asked as politely as he could manage. He’d called ahead and set up the meeting with Giles at the Magic Box specifically tonight to avoid the blonde, who supposedly had an evening tutoring session with Willow and Tara. To work on the aforementioned English Lit grades.


“Not that you care, seeing that you and Xander don’t give a damn whether the rest of us live or die these days, and for your information we’re getting beat up a lot lately,” Buffy retorted, “but Willow thinks she and Tara can do a kind of tracking spell. So the next time we run into some nasties that we think came out of a portal, we can track them back to where they came through, and hopefully find out more. Except that Willow’s magic isn’t exactly up to par lately, and she has to redo her spell, so she needed a few refills.” She handed Giles a list.


“That’s not fair,” Xander protested hotly. “Spike and I have been patrolling almost every single night, just not with you.”


“Yeah, and what’s with that, Xander?” Buffy returned. “Now you’d rather hang around with the Fangless Wonder than us?”


“Not ‘us’,” Xander retorted. “Just you. At least Spike only beats up on unhelpful nasties, not Scoobies.”


Buffy flushed and glanced away.


“I didn’t mean to hit you,” she said, her voice suddenly subdued. “You know that, Xan.” She looked at him again, almost pleadingly. “Don’t you?”


“Yeah, I know,” Xander said, softening slightly. “But beating on Spike isn’t any better, not when he can’t even defend himself. You guys want to trade insults all the time, fine, that’s relatively harmless and even kind of entertaining. But this ‘I can’t wait till you’re dust and I’d love to help you get there’ thing coming from you all the time’s getting old, Buff, especially since Spike’s going out every night and risking his life – or whatever you’d call it – to make us safer. Even saving our lives sometimes – even yours. I mean, I’m sure Spike really would probably kill you if he could, but at least he doesn’t go around saying it constantly, and it’s kind of bad when an evil soulless vampire’s more polite than you are, okay?”


Buffy’s lips tightened and she turned away dismissively, walking off to join Giles, who had prudently withdrawn to pull jars from the shelves.


Spike swallowed, impressed and a little disturbed by Xander’s semi-public defense. It galled him plenty that he couldn’t do anything material about the Slayer’s constant threats, barbs, and outright assaults, and he knew it bothered Xander too – hence the Kevlar vest that Spike was wearing even now – but he’d never really realized how offended Xander had gotten on his behalf. Or that plain old mortal Xander – Waitaminnit, didn’t Leng Chi say something about him having a gift? A powerful one? And he’s not just ‘plain old mortal Xander’ anymore; he’s had some of my blood almost every day, and at least I can tell – would stand up to the Slayer to defend Spike’s honor, so to speak.


And verbally, at least, beaten the Slayer to a standstill.


“Looks like our exit cue, Pet,” he said aloud.


“Guess so,” Xander said, scowling. “Tomorrow’s Friday, we can leave at sunset, okay?”


“Yes, of course,” Giles said, walking back over. “Shall I call Angel and tell him you’re coming?”


Spike sighed.


“Suppose you’d better,” he said grudgingly. “Don’t know whether it’ll give him time to calm down or get madder. Oh, and do me a favor? Book us a nice room somewhere, won’t you? Someplace with a refrigerator, preferably in a basement. Wouldn’t want to rely on the Broody One’s hospitality.”


“Yes, I’ll do that,” Giles said, troubled. “You don’t suppose he’s angry enough to – well – “


Spike grimaced. He couldn’t explain it to Giles; he frankly doubted that a mortal could understand. It would take a lot more than a few pokers shoved through him to make Angel stake his Childe, just as Spike hadn’t really been trying to destroy Angel at the time. Killing one’s Sire or Childe was what a vampire did when the choice came down to stake or be staked. All right, Angel had a soul, and that changed the equation – he’d staked Darla, true. So in that sense he’d have less inhibition against staking Spike. At the same time, that very soul would make it harder for Angel to contemplate staking Spike when Spike was chipped and harmless, at least to humans. Additionally, Spike had a particularly potent advantage over Angel – Angel’s guilt. They both remembered how Angelus had treated Spike, and Spike knew Angel had probably been tearing himself up over it ever since he’d gotten his soul back.


On a purely physical standpoint, Spike honestly didn’t know how he’d fare against Angel. Angel was older and theoretically stronger. On the other hand, Angel had been underfeeding and living on animal blood for a long time now, while Spike was dining fairly abundantly on demon, vampire and even human blood, usually with a chaser of fresh Eau de Xander. Spike figured he stood a pretty fair chance against Angel now, if it came to that.


“He’s probably pissed enough,” Spike said, shrugging. “But ‘e won’t do it. And once I tell him what’s happening here, he’ll have other things on ‘is mind.”


He hoped he was right. He was actually more worried about Angel’s sidekicks. This fellow Gunn hadn’t been around at the time, nor had Wesley, but Cordelia had, and if the bleedin’ prom queen came at him with a stake, there wasn’t much he could do but turn tail and run. He personally planned to keep Xander’s Kevlar vest on all the time, and never once turn his back on that one. He privately thought Cordy could probably give Buffy a good run for the Bitch of the Year award.


Giles gave Spike a skeptical look, but nodded.


“Why don’t the two of you sit down for a moment,” he suggested. “I’ll get Buffy what Willow needs and send her on her way, call Angel, and then pull a couple of books I’d like to send with you.”


Xander was still glaring at Buffy. Spike laid a hand on his shoulder and firmly guided the mortal over to the table.


“Sit,” he said.


Xander sat – then shuddered. Spike frowned, raising an eyebrow enquiringly. Xander unaccountably blushed and looked away.


Awright, what’s up now?


Spike inspected his lover more closely. Xander’s eyes were dilated, his palms were sweaty, and he smelled of arousal. Yup, definite arousal. Spike was flattered – he very much doubted the arousal was directed at either Buffy or Giles – but rather puzzled. Then Xander shifted slightly in the chair, and something about the pattern of his movements gave Spike the clue. And a bolt of pure desire that shot straight to his groin.


He sniffed again, concentrating harder this time. Yes, there it was, the scent of silicone and lubricant.


“Bloody ‘ell,” Spike whispered, amazed and aroused. “You mean to tell me you’re wearing that plug? Now?”


Xander went a positively alarming shade of red.


“Actually,” he barely whispered, “no, I didn’t mean to tell you.”


“What the bloody ‘ell did you wear it here for?” Spike whispered.


Xander looked everywhere, everywhere except at Spike.


“I didn’t know we were coming here,” Xander whispered back. “When I changed clothes after work, I thought we were just going to get a sandwich and then go home again. You didn’t tell me we were coming here until we got in the car.”


“So what?” Spike whispered disbelievingly. “Made more sense to go to a restaurant with a sex toy up your arse?”


“No!” Xander said, then hurriedly lowered his voice. “No. I mean – I mean – “ He swallowed. “I thought maybe if I wore it for a while ahead of time, you know, when we got home and went to bed, maybe I’d be stretched out enough that we could – you could – “


“Oh, hell, Xander,” Spike murmured, amazed and touched. Things had been progressing nicely in the bedroom. Xander had moved up from the first slender plug to a slightly thicker one, but he was nowhere near ready for fucking. Moreover, just to be safe, most of the time Xander put in the plug himself, just in case it hurt. Although so far, they’d both been careful enough that it hadn’t.


“Sorry, luv, that’s not the way it works,” Spike whispered. “Isn’t a matter of stretching, it’s all about relaxing. And you’re not ready yet, it’s that simple.”


“But I want to,” Xander protested almost silently.


Spike chuckled.


“Yeah, I can tell,” he smirked. He glanced over, saw Giles talking to Buffy – more like arguing, from the look of it. He stood quickly, pulling Xander to his feet and steering him around behind a bookcase. He pushed Xander firmly back against the bookcase, crowding up against him, sealing his lips to the mortal’s for a long kiss before he pulled back far enough to speak.


“You’re a naughty bit, aren’t you,” he whispered, loving the heat in Xander’s eyes. He slid his hand around to Xander’s arse, his fingers trailing down the back seam of Xander’s jeans. “Coming here like that, smelling all hot and bothered, teasing me half out of my wits.” He rubbed firmly, pressing against the base of the plug, and Xander gasped; Spike muffled Xander’s moans with his own mouth.


“You know what I’m gonna do to you when I get you home?” Spike murmured hotly in Xander’s ear. “I’m gonna sit you down in the rocking chair, unzip those jeans and pull out your cock and lube it up. Know what I’m gonna do then?”


“N-n-no,” Xander whimpered as Spike continued to rub the base of the plug, moving it inside him.


“I’m gonna climb aboard and ride you like a fucking rocking horse,” Spike whispered, rubbing his groin against Xander’s as he manipulated the plug. “Gonna ride you long and hard until you’re begging to come. And every time I sink down on your cock, that plug’s going to push up inside you. And all the time you’re fucking me, you’re going to feel it fucking you, and you’ll think about what I’m going to feel like someday, thrusting deep inside you.”


“Oh, God,” Xander whimpered, and Spike claimed his lips just in time as Xander gave a hoarse moan and came, shoving his hard cock brutally against Spike’s equally hard erection. Spike chuckled softly and held Xander up, caressing him gently through the last tremors of his climax. He licked the sweat from the side of Xander’s throat, relishing the taste of him.


“Shiiiiiiiiiit,” Xander breathed shakily. “God, Spike, I don’t believe you did that to me.”


“Guess you’re gonna have to wait in the car, luv,” Spike chuckled. He glanced around the corner; Buffy was still arguing with Giles. “Go on, you can slip out now, before Her Buffyness sees you with wet jeans.”


“I’m gonna get you for this,” Xander murmured, blushing, but he darted quickly out the door.


Bet on it, Pet.


Sighing resignedly and adjusting himself inside his trousers, Spike walked back to the table to wait.




“Mmmmmmm.” Xander rolled over, curling into Spike’s cool body, resting his head on Spike’s shoulder. “That was wild.”


Spike smirked. The rocking chair had been a damned good idea. They’d barely managed to stagger to the bed afterward. If he’d been mortal, he wouldn’t be sitting for a week. As matters stood, he could still feel a delicious soreness when he clenched his buttocks, although that would be gone in no time.


“Was, wasn’t it?” he said, vastly pleased with himself.


There was a long moment of silence.


“Spike?” Xander whispered in the darkness.




“I love you.”


Spike’s eyes jolted open, staring up at the ceiling. He didn’t move.


“Spike?” The whisper was hesitant now, downright fearful.


Oh, bloody hell. Spike gave in. He couldn’t even remember why he’d been fighting it.


“Yeah, I do,” he whispered back.




“You do what?”


Spike rolled his eyes.


“You know.”


“You do? Really?”


Spike sighed.


“Never took a Consort before,” he said briefly. “Tells you something, don’t it?”


A long silence this time. Xander propped himself up on one elbow and turned on the light. Spike blinked, dazed by the sudden brightness.


“But I’m not your Consort,” he said quietly. “Not really.”


Spike shrugged resignedly.


“Sorry, Pet,” he said. “If I could, I would. You know that.”


Xander rolled over on his back, staring at the ceiling for a long moment


“Spike?” he said at last. “If you could get rid of the chip, what would you do?”


Spike sighed again.


“What d’you mean, Pet?”


“Would you still – “ Xander swallowed. “Would you still want me? As your Consort, I mean?”


Spike snorted.


“Pet, the bloody chip’s got nothing to do with that,” he said. “Yeah, of course I’d still want you as my Consort. More than ever.”


Another long silence.


“Would you still want to, you know, hurt Buffy?”


Spike laughed.


“Pet, hurt is too nice a word for what I’d do to Buffy.”


“Oh.” Xander took a deep breath. “What about the rest of them?”


“Oh, I wouldn’t mind force-feeding Rupert a few bags of pig’s blood,” Spike said idly, folding his hands behind his head. “He’s been relatively decent lately, though. I’d probably leave it at that. Dawn’s not worth the trouble. Wouldn’t hurt the witches, if that’s what you’re wondering.”


“It wouldn’t work that way, though,” Xander said. He rolled on his side again, gazing into Spike’s eyes seriously. “I mean, say you killed Buffy and started killing humans for food again. Then the others – Willow and Tara and Dawn and Giles, and probably Angel and his people too – would come after you. They’d have to. How could you keep from killing Willow and Tara then? Unless you left town.”


Spike shrugged.


“Don’t know,” he said. “Guess I’d have to stay out of their way.”


“What about me?” Xander pressed. “My friends would be hunting the man I love. And I’d have to try to keep on loving you, knowing you’re killing innocent people. How am I supposed to live with that?”


Spike shrugged again, uncomfortably. He hadn’t thought that far ahead. It was all theoretical anyway.


“Never thought about it,” he said briefly. “You know, Pet, it is a vampire you’re cuddled up to here. Evil, soulless, all that good stuff. Kind of a package deal.”


“What if – “ Xander took a deep breath; to Spike’s amazement, the mortal was trembling hard. Hell, this is really eating at him! “What if you just went on as if the chip was still there. I mean, Buffy and the others would never know that you were dangerous, so there wouldn’t be any problem. You still couldn’t hunt humans for food, except the way you’ve been, um, getting leftovers, but at least you’d know you could defend yourself. That you could if you had to. And maybe – maybe for my sake – “ Xander swallowed again. “Maybe you could, like, limit yourself to killing in self-defense and, like, evil people. Like, only ones I could live with myself if you killed.”


Spike frowned.


Not kill? Even if he could? It made no sense. He was a vampire. He killed for food, he killed for power, he killed because he bloody well felt like it. Master vampires did as they chose.


On the other hand, he could choose to please his Consort. He had no delusions of keeping Xander’s love if he went back to his pre-chip antics. Either Xander would leave him, or stake him – however much it would hurt him to do so – or tear that beautiful pure soul to bits trying to reconcile the man he loved (and didn’t that thought make Spike feel happy and amazed and scared positively shitless all at the same time?) with the vampire he would come to hate. And Xander would probably hate himself a little more with each kill he didn’t prevent.


And would it cost him so much to indulge his Consort? Humans lived such bloody short lives, it wouldn’t inconvenience him for all that long – and he found he hated that thought even more than the idea of such restraint. But there were only two outcomes, weren’t they? Xander could live a long, long time with regular infusions of Spike’s blood, but that was still only postponing the inevitable. Someday either Spike would turn him, or Xander would die.


It was a fair question Xander was asking, after all. Spike didn’t blame him for wanting to know how matters stood before he committed himself any more firmly to Spike.


Funny, innit? Spike mused. Leng Chi said something like that, didn’t he? About Xander trusting me with himself, but not with others? And what else? That bit about shackles and hard choices.


Xander was still staring at Spike fearfully, and suddenly Spike recognized that look. Xander was waiting to be hurt.




And it was that thought that made Spike’s decision for him.


“Ever see the movie Pinocchio, luv?” he said softly.


Xander nodded, looking startled at the change in subject.


“Remember Jiminy Cricket?” Spike said. “Pinocchio’s conscience. Think you’d fancy a job like that?”


“Huh?” Xander said, blinking confusedly.


“Well, suppose I could get rid of this chip,” Spike said. “Suppose I agreed to let you be my conscience. I wouldn’t kill no humans – even Buffy – without your permission. Except to defend myself, or you, let’s say,” he added. Then he frowned. “Two exceptions, though. Those Initiative gits – I ever see any of ‘em again, they’re mine. And your parents. Someday, somehow, they’re mine too. Don’t mind waiting – time’s something I’ve got lots of. But someday they’re gonna pay, and I’m gonna collect, with interest.”


Xander’s eyes were suddenly suspiciously shiny, and his voice was a little unsteady.


“You mean you’d give up on your revenge against Buffy,” he said softly, “but not against my parents?”


“Hell, Pet, of course,” Spike said indignantly. “Buffy, now, she’s the Slayer, eh? She’s supposed to want me dead, and failing that, to make my life miserable, and vice versa, right? Just the natural order. Don’t hold it against her, excepting that she’s such a bloody bitch about it. Pisses me off when she badmouths you, though. And I didn’t say I’d give up on revenge,” he added, grinning. “Just that I wouldn’t kill her, see.”


Then he shook his head.


“But your folks – no excuse for them. Even the Vorgosts in the park, they’re just being Vorgosts, see? Your parents, though, they’re more evil than most evil I’ve seen. That one I won’t give up, not even for you. ‘Cause if you’re my Consort, well, then, they hurt my Consort, and damn if I’ll let that pass.”


Xander blinked and wiped his eyes.


“I should want you to,” he said softly. “I should want you to let them live. I should hate the thought of you killing them. I guess I’m not quite as much one of the good guys as I should be, huh?” He swallowed. “But you’ll wait? You’ll wait, and be careful, and when – if – you ever did it, you’d be sure that, well, it wouldn’t be something that would make the gang have to come after you, right?”


Spike smiled and reached up to comb his fingers through Xander’s soft dark hair, still damp with passion sweat.


“Promise, Pet,” he said simply. “You’ve got the word of William Barstow, or William the Bloody, or Spike, or all of the above. If I ever manage to get rid of the fucking chip, you’ll have it your way. Feel better now?”


Xander sighed, letting his forehead drop to Spike’s chest, all the tension flowing out of his muscles as if he was truly relaxing for the first time in a long, long time.


“Not yet,” he murmured. “But I think I will.”


Spike grinned, ruffling Xander’s hair.


“Better get some sleep,” he advised. “You’ve got to be up for work in about five hours, and then we’ve got the drive to LA.”


“Yeah.” Xander raised his head slightly and smiled at Spike. “Um . . . do you think you could say it? Just once, tonight? I’d really, really like to hear it right now. Please?”


Spike sighed and rolled his eyes.


“Do I have to, Pet?” he grumbled.


“Please?” Xander repeated, gazing at Spike with those melting puppy-dog eyes. Spike groaned, helpless before the assault.


“All right, all right, turn off the bloody eyes, will you?” Spike growled. “I love you, whelp, all right? Happy now?”


“Happy now,” Xander smiled. “Love you too, Blondie.”


Spike growled again and whapped Xander carefully on the back of the head, but when Xander turned out the light and rolled over on his side, pulling Spike’s arm around his waist, when Spike decided that dozing next to his lover was preferable to getting up and watching old movies or pounding the shit out of something in the graveyard – even though it was right in the middle of his “day” – Spike knew that he wasn’t the only one wearing a silly, sappy grin in the darkness.


Email: Shadow